During a recent campaign appearance, Republican presidential candidate John McCain revealed his science fictional side: He gave an entire speech where he pretended the year was 2012 and he'd already been president for four years. Apparently, he'd been getting a lot of things done, like fixing the environment and lowering taxes. More importantly, though, he was participating in a U.S. conservative tradition. He was spinning tales of a future where conservative forces triumph, roll back progressive culture, and make the world a better place. Like conservative congressman Newt Gingrich, who published an alternative history novel, McCain was trying to seduce U.S. voters with his vision of another world. Given the political climate in the U.S. right now, it would seem that conservative science fiction is pretty compelling indeed. Let's take a look at a few of the greatest hits of right-wing scifi from the USA.
No conservative scifi geek's bookshelf would be complete without Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, a novel about a dystopian future America full of nasty anti-capitalists who want to feed the poor and crush innovation. Slowly, our industrial capitalist main character realizes that other "atlases" of industry — the rich elites whose businesses make the world go round — are disappearing. It all has to do with this giant motor that turns "atmospheric static electricity" into "kinetic energy." And a secret underground world where all the planet's innovators and capitalists have hidden themselves in order to create a perfect utopia of innovation and individualism. The novel has been a favorite allegory for generations of free market libertarians, and even inspired the videogame Bioshock.
A much more radically conservative scifi novel is The Turner Diaries, written by "Andrew Macdonald," a fictional account from a foot soldier who fought in the white-power revolution in the United States. This is the novel where we first see the term ZOG, for "Zionist occupational government," which is what the revolutionaries in the book call the U.S. government, which is full of blacks and Jews and other terrible people. Written in the 1970s in gritty, disturbingly-engaging prose, the novel tells the story of how a rag-tag cell of soldiers works together with other bands to take over the U.S. government and murder blacks and Jews across the nation to create a white utopia. This is the novel that has inspired many Christian Identity groups and white-power militias in the United States, and a copy was found in the car of Timothy McVeigh, one of the men involved in the 1991 Oklahoma City bombing.
The bestselling Left Behind series, which has also been made into a movie, is science fiction for the Christian right. It's the simple tale of what happens when the Jews and Arabs finally make peace, and then the truly God-loving Christians are raptured up to heaven. Those who are left behind to face Armageddon must find their way toward heaven, or get ready for hell! There's a reason why these books are bestsellers: they're action-packed and intense, and they make an effort to translate present-day politics into a Biblical framework.
Of course there are plenty of right-wing science fiction classics to be found on video too. 1980s cold war paranoia flick Red Dawn tops the list, with its tale of what happens when the Soviets invade a small Colorado town. Unfortunately the Russkies didn't bargain on high school teacher Patrick Swayze and the whole high school football team becoming super-ninjas who can easily defeat them! It was a rah-rah Reagan moment of near-future scifi that might be one of the only examples of right-wing camp.
Then there's the strange Christopher Lambert movie Fortress, about a future where the United States is run by cruel abortionists and environmentalists, who won't let couples have more than one baby. Our hero is trying to flee to Mexico in order to have his second child with his wife. Like Atlas Shrugged, this conservative scifi shows us a liberal dystopia which rugged individuals must escape to be free.
Are these science fiction scenarios really any less compelling than liberal ones? Or are all politically-minded scifi scenarios doomed from the start to be bad fiction because they are attempts to shoehorn plot into philosophy rather than teasing many ideas out of a strong plot?